Spending an hour or two inside a steamy conservatory in the middle of winter is one of the more rejuvenating ways I can think of to pass an afternoon. The thrill of warm air on your cheeks and the concentration of things that are green and leafy can counteract the effects of even the grayest winter day. Even better, toting a camera along to the Bronx will give you endless chances to practice your photographic craft (and to win a free class at the New York Botanical Garden).
Photographs by Erin Boyle.
On January 19, the New York Botanical Garden opened a new exhibit called Tropical Paradise, which displays world class photographs alongside the real-life counterparts in the garden's collection of tropical plants.
To encourage visitors to flex their own creative muscles, the botanical garden is running a photography contest through March 1. Contestants can visit the Tropical Paradise exhibit and try their hands at winning. There aren't any rules saying you need to use a professional camera, so even if a digital-SLR isn't in your toolbox, you can pull out a smartphone or a point-and-shoot and get started.
Grand Prize winners in each of two categories will be awarded a gift certificate for use in any of the botanical garden's classes, including their photography classes. I won't say I'm not tempted to submit for that opportunity alone.
If you're feeling a little uncertain about your photography skills, the botanical garden will have a professional photographer on hand every Sunday from 1 to 3 pm through March 1 to answer questions. If you can't make it to the exhibit on a Sunday, the garden uploaded a terrific series of Garden Photo Tips to YouTube.
My own training behind the camera is mostly trial and error, so when I visited last Sunday, I relished the opportunity to try my hand at capturing what seemed like hundreds of different angles of as many species of plants.
I brought along my 1.8 mm lens (an affordable option for DSLR users hoping to get up close and personal) and snapped away, using my manual settings to try to achieve the perfect capture. In setting like this, I'm particularly fond of creating images that blur out everything but the subject. To achieve the effect, I experiment with turning down my f-number. On a kit lens, you'll likely be able to get down to about f5.6, which is plenty low enough to achieve a similar look.
The photo contest is only open to entries taken in the Tropical Paradise exhibit, but admission to the botanical garden buys you entry to all of the collections in the Haupt Conservatory. I think I like the desert rooms the best. For specific details about the contest and regular visiting hours, see NYBG. Admission to Tropical Paradise is $20 for adults (free for members).
Interested in more tips for taking great garden photos? See "10 Tips for Gorgeous Garden Photos."